The Worlds Hardest Languages

If you assumed that Asian languages were the hardest to learn then you’d be right. Based on research done by the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State, Voxy has compiled a nice infographic breaking down different languages by the amount of time it takes a native English speaker to achieve speaking and reading proficiency.

Voxy Languages Infographic

Unsurprisingly Arabic, ChineseJapanese and Korean come out as the hardest, requiring almost 2 years to learn. In the past I’ve tried my hand at the latter three, finding all extremely challenging although the Korean alphabet (Hangul) is far easier to learn than Chinese characters.

Given the growing prevalence of smartphones and tablets, I feel there’s a lot of room for improvement on the old rote language learning methods. Tim Ferris and Gabriel Wyner have written about approaches they’ve found successful in trying to simplify and streamline the process of language learning, although given that is a very personal thing, what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.

David avatar

15 responses

  1. Memedai avatar

    Hmm, German is not included in the easy section. I mean the modern English and German have the same “ancestors”.

  2. This must be the same other way around.. meaning for the native speakers of “Hard” languages, it must be quite difficult to be able to speak English well.
    Anyway, a very interesting post 🙂
    Happy New Year!

    1. Interesting idea 신지수 but wouldn’t the lesser number of characters to grasp in English make it easier to learn than Asian languages? I guess there are other factors which make it more complicated though.

      Happy New Year also 🙂

    2. Why tho avatar
      Why tho

      Not really, my first language is Arabic and tbh I know more English than Arabic and I’m fully Arab.

  3. Reza avatar

    I have studied the last four on and off. I learned Arabic very young for religious reasons, and reading and writing can be quite difficult. Also, it helps to learn it young as there are parts of the language that uses different parts of mouth/throat to make the sounds.

    I think Japanese is easier to pronouce than the other 3 but reading and writing are very difficult. Orally you can pick it up quite easily.

    Korean’s alphabet helps you pick up the words much more easier as you can translate most of the sounds into their English phonetic equivelent. For example 신지수 becomes Shin Ji Su (OR Shin Jee Soo). knowing words and putting them correctly into sentences are a different thing.

    I find Chinese the hardest as it is the one I am studying now (while forgetting the others). There are words with different tones that sound quite similar, then there is the letters…reading and writing. I just want to learn enough Chinese to get by and make small talk.

    1. Thanks for your comment Reza! I agree with your assessment of the difficulties of each language, the tones and characters in Chinese are a killer!

      Good luck with your studies 🙂

  4. Mihyun Park avatar
    Mihyun Park

    Oh, I didn’t know that Korean is the hardest language to learn!
    Korean is consisted in Hangul, Hangul is the most easiest to learn and the most scientific.
    So the certain area that doesn’t have characters introduces Hangul.
    Hangul is made by King Sejong(The king of Chosun in 15C) and eminent scholars.
    (For reference, Chosun is the former name of Korea.)
    The Korean alphabet is easy to learn, but the reason many foreigner are uncomfortable with that is due to grammar, perhaps.
    I’m Korean but I feel that the grammar of Korean is not easy.T_T
    English is most difficult to me as foreigners say that Korean is difficult!

    So interesting post. Thanks 🙂

  5. Sebastian avatar

    I speak several Romance languages but Japanese, for me, is impossible. As someone else pointed out, it is not too difficult to pronounce but reading and writing it are very difficult. Maybe I’m just too old.

    That being said, my friends in Japan tell me English is a killer for them. It’s not the alphabet, they all more or less know the Latin letters. They call it romanji. It’s the spelling and pronunciation that is difficult for them as well as the grammar and extensive vocabulary that English has.

    The world of language is a very interesting one.


  6. Ahmed ali avatar
    Ahmed ali

    For me I learnt Arabic. Itillaian and Japanese at the same time. It was a killer but after 1 year I could do it. Maybe it’s cause I started Arabic at 4.. I’m 13 now and I still haven’t finished Arabic…

  7. Mano Sheikh avatar
    Mano Sheikh

    Hindi is very easy….I speak urdu and its very alike and nit hard at all, but writing is difficult

  8. Shiva Gali avatar
    Shiva Gali

    I think you guys never had tried Indian languages. Most of the people in this world can’t even pronounce the words of Dravidian Languages and Sanskrit.
    For me, yeah, learning and speaking Japanese and korean are as easy as learning English and French. Chinese is a bit difficult, but it is the easiest of all as we dont have to use grammer to speak chinese. The reason why English speakers find difficult to learn other languages is that they can’t control or make all the sounds that a normal human can make using tongue and nose at same time and so the rest of the world except Indian subcontinent people.
    If you don’t agree, try pronouncing “Jibhukshahakaram”, a common sanskrit word.
    I consider Indian sub-continent language are hardest as pronunciation is very difficult. As for Indian Sub Continent people, speaking and learning any language in this world is considerably easily than rest of the people of the world.

  9. Alex avatar

    I kind of disagree with Korean being placed with Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic. Learning Hangul is extremely simple and easy. Albeit the grammar is different from English it’s not too hard to pick up on. Also there’s tons of English words sprinkled into Korean that are cognates. There’s also not a lot of irregular verbs, and if there are they’re pretty easy to remember and learn. However, I have to admit it does take a bit of time to get used to. In other words Korean is a lot easier than those languages considered “extremely hard”.

    1. Jenni avatar

      Maybe it has to do with the formal levels of speech there are? I’ve heard Korean is easy to learn if you’re going for one speech level, but a terror if one aims to master all levels and gain full proficiency.

  10. David avatar

    Hangul would be fantastic if it were followed to the “letter”. I find Koreans write a lot of words one way and pronounce them another way – not unlike English and French and although not to the extent we do in our western writing (at least not yet), Korean shouldn’t be classified as phonetic like Italian or Spanish.

  11. James Rhee avatar
    James Rhee

    I’m not good with languages but korean is very hard if you don’t learn when you are a kid


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